7 Hot Cloud Computing Innovations

Thursday Sep 30th 2010 by Jeff Vance
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Cloud computing trends include the rise of the smartphone and tablet, sky computing, online gaming, cloud gateways and more.

Despite a dismal economy, analysts continue to be bullish on cloud computing. A few recent studies project continued momentum for cloud computing, which according to IDC, should soon “reach 12% of the size of traditional IT product spending, [while representing] over 25% of the net-new growth in traditional IT products.” IDC predicts that worldwide revenue from public IT cloud services, which exceeded $16 billion in 2009, will grow to nearly $56 billion in 2014.

According to AMI-Partners’ World Wide Cloud Services Study, adoption among SMBs will be even more impressive. SMBs worldwide will spend more than $95 billion on cloud-related products and services (both public and private) by 2014. SMBs are already rapidly moving to the cloud, with CRM, payroll, accounting/financials and web-conferencing applications leading the way.

While there is no doubt that cloud computing will continue to grow, can we safely say that it is a mature technology?

One sign of maturity for newly adopted technologies is an outgrowth of innovation. By this I don’t mean that technologies require constant innovation in order to be considered mature; rather, once a technology has passed a certain tipping point, innovators begin tinkering at the margins.

New problems emerge as adoption spikes, and, obviously, new solutions are needed to address them. Meanwhile, radically unexpected use cases spring up to take advantage of the technology -- in ways never envisioned in the early adopter phase.

Here are seven of those innovations:

1. Displacing the laptop with smartphones and tablets.

Desktops and notebooks have already lost their standing as the go-to computing devices for many knowledge workers. Smartphone adoption outpaces even the cloud, while the iPad is already gaining traction in such verticals as hospitality and education.

“People hate carrying their laptops around with them. If you can access your desktop from the cloud via a phone or tablet, that’s a lot less hassle for people who are always on the go. Plus, there are no security limitations in the device being stolen or misplaced, because none of the information from the PC is saved locally on the phone,” said Daniel Barreto, GM, Mobile Cloud Business Unit at Wyse Technology, a provider of “cloud client computing” solutions.

Wyse intends to banish laptops from the mobile workforce through its PocketCloud service. PocketCloud is a remote desktop service that essentially delivers everything from your PC to your smartphone or tablet. By storing everything in the cloud, the constrained device gets a major boost (although input and bandwidth limitation still pose problems). Customers for PocketCloud include EMC and CA.

2. Mobilizing surveillance.

Iveda Solutions is leveraging the cloud to provide streaming mobile video surveillance at a price point well below the typical closed-circuit systems.

“Using cloud computing is a better way to consolidate your surveillance video, especially if it is coming from disparate geographic locations or facilities. Instead of running multiple DVRs and NVRs, the video is centrally hosted at our Tier-4 data center and the user accesses it using a Web browser,” said Jason Benedict, Marketing Manager, Iveda Solutions. Video can then be accessed by any Internet-enabled device, including smartphones and in-vehicle thin clients.

Iveda Solutions has deployed its system on school busses for campus safety, in parks in Arizona to combat graffiti and illegal dumping, and at golf courses to combat vandalism.

3. Moving gaming – all video gaming – online.

Whether you play video games on a PC, on Facebook or on consoles, today’s gaming experience is a thoroughly online one. Heck, I use my Wii more often to stream Netflix movies than to play games.

According to the NPD Group, the sales of games that are digitally downloaded topped traditional physical sales for the first time this past year. Consumers in the U.S. downloaded 11.2 million games from January through June 2010, versus 8.2 million physical units sold.

The numbers for Pando Networks are even more impressive. Pando leveraged its “content delivery cloud” to deliver more than 30 million game downloads (worldwide) between May 2009 and May 2010.

By combining cloud computing, http delivery and client-side technology, Pando provides a highly scalable game delivery platform with network capacity that expands as demand increases. This is especially important for online game distribution, since new releases of popular games frequently result in a sudden surge in download demand that can degrade CDN performance and the end-user experience.

4. Making MMO gaming truly virtual.

As more games leverage the Internet, the appeal of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games grows. According to Strategy Analytics, revenues for MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) topped $5 billion worldwide in 2009, up 17 percent from 2008. The research firm predicts that revenues will reach $8 billion in 2014.

If a few of MMO games’ limitations are addressed, those numbers could grow even more. “MMO games are expensive to build and tend to be based on decades-old technology,” said Mark Richardson, CEO of Ashima Arts.

According to Richardson, the only thing “massive” about current MMOs is the audience. The typical world gamers inhabit is static and not terribly large. Moreover, the audiences themselves are only massive using yesterday’s measurements.

“The way that the underlying programs are parallelized from server to server means that the games can’t hold more than 10,000 people,” he said. The games address this through “sharding,” which means that the gaming audience is segmented. You only access a single, regional shard.

Instead of a “World of Warcraft” world, there are hundreds of separate worlds. These worlds tend also to be non-interactive – a player cannot really use a well, cut down a tree, or enter certain buildings because these are all simply stage props.

To conquer the limitations of virtual game worlds, Ashima Arts is building an MMO OS based on virtualization and cloud concepts. The Mirage OS turns each player interaction into a transaction. The OS has complete freedom to run transactions on any of its cloud servers.

“This creates tremendous opportunities for game designers to create virtual worlds, which are actually worlds, not limited approximations,” Richardson said. Moreover, these games will allow you to interact, potentially, with millions of players worldwide, rather than being restricted to a regional or skill-level shard.

Even if you have never played or intend to play an MMO game, the implications for training, education and conferencing are obvious.

5. Smoothing the transition with cloud gateways.

The cloud was originally intended to make it easier to use software over the Internet without loading client software. Of course, many organizations fret over exposing sensitive data assets to the Internet. As a result, many organizations have a few cloud applications running at the periphery of their operations, with the mission-critical ones kept in house.

Many of those on-premise applications benefit from features such as collaboration and remote access, which has led to hybrid clouds. “Hybrid clouds have, in many instances, become the information gateway to the public cloud, while allowing users to preserve the legacy core,” said Chris Weitz, Director of Deloitte Consulting.

Until very recently, these hybrid clouds were public-cloud/roll-your-own amalgams. However, any time vendors see potential customers laboring to create solutions like hybrid clouds, it’s only a matter of time until they begin offering products or services to displace the homegrown solutions.

“Easing users’ transition to the cloud is very important as more and more users are considering cloud adoption, but protecting their data is vital. Cloud storage gateway helps customers solve challenges with high-growth applications, allowing them to securely and seamlessly take advantage of elastic, pay-as-you-go cloud storage services,” said Joel Christner, chief scientist at cloud-storage vendor StorSimple.

Now, “cloud storage gateway” or “cloud storage on-ramp” devices are being deployed in data centers to enable the use of cloud storage as though it were traditional storage. These devices provide the workflow and processes expected of traditional storage (volume provisioning, LUN masking, snapshots), and incorporate a number of technologies to overcome cloud-centric challenges. Content-aware tiering with integrated storage ensures high-performance access to working-set data, while less frequently used data can be tiered to the cloud.

6. Pushing the cloud envelope with “Sky Computing.”

When scientists use the cloud for their studies, they often run up against computing limitations, even in large cloud deployments, rather quickly. “In science, there is an explosion of data in areas such as bio-informatics,” said Dr. Kate Keahey, a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and a fellow of the Computation Institute at the University of Chicago. “We have more data than we know what to do with, and we’re not able to process that data effectively in traditional infrastructures.”

As a result, researchers have been investigating ways to link their cloud deployments with other clouds. Called “sky computing,” this model takes resources from multiple cloud providers and pools them to create large-scale, distributed infrastructures.

Often, the in-house cloud is linked with resources in public clouds, such as AWS. Sky-computing clouds have emerged at the University of Chicago, Purdue University and the University of Texas at Austin, to name only a few.

Grid5000 in France and FutureGrid in the U.S. are two early sky-computing deployments getting a lot of attention in academic circles. The Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), meanwhile, has received $100 million in U.S. stimulus money to deploy sensors and monitoring equipment throughout the world’s oceans. Obviously, handling the data from those sensors will require massive computing infrastructures.

Basically, this is a matter of cloud computing getting back to its roots. Several years ago “cloud computing” and “grid computing” were used almost interchangeably. Grids were more typically focused on applications where huge amounts of data where being stored and processed, while clouds were centered on cost reduction and infrastructure flexibility.

Now, sky computing essentially marries the two, with one critical distinction. “With a grid, you’re still in someone else’s domain,” Keahey said. “You must deal with firewalls and with things being different on different infrastructures. With sky computing, on the other hand, you are able to create a single domain on top of all of these resources.”

7. Scaling in response to viral marketing success.

The effectiveness of traditional advertising is being questioned by even the least media-savvy advertising buyers. Meanwhile, online advertising (aside from Google) hasn’t panned out as hoped.

The next new trend in advertising and marketing, though, is showing promise. According to a new study from King Fish Media, three-quarters of all companies currently have a social-media marketing strategy, and, of those who don’t, the vast majority intend to implement one within the next year.

How does the cloud fit into all of this? Simple: the cloud is protecting companies against social-media flops – and successes.

In the past, if an expected threshold of users failed to materialize, yet you had already purchased the infrastructure for a large campaign, you were in trouble. Similarly, if a campaign exceeded your projections, you risked alienating potential customers as applications slowed when capacity limits were reached.

“Organizations mistakenly believe that big, dedicated enterprise applications are the difficult ones to plan for,” said Adrian Ludwig, VP of Marketing for cloud computing provider Joyent. “The truth is those are fairly easy to design. The hardware is dedicated to the application, the computing environment is a controlled one, and the organization knows how many end users it will have.”

Contrast that with an advertising application where the number of users can range anywhere from a few dozen (if the campaign flops) to tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions.

“Even cloud computing is stressed under that kind of varying demand,” Ludwig said.

Joyent tackles this problem by virtualizing the layer between the hypervisor and the application. Just as virtualization separated the hardware assets from the OS and app, Joyent’s “SmartOS” frees applications from hypervisors and dedicated OSes. Thus, each application running on one of the ported platforms is just another process that gets managed by the SmartOS.

Using Joyent’s SmartOS architecture, international advertising firm AKQA has launched and successfully monetized a number of viral marketing campaigns, including a social-shopping campaign for the Gap and a match-planning app created for Visa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Apologies to those who suggested including these cloud innovations: collaboration clouds, cloud mashups, HPC, the “appification” of software and the emergence of cloud operating systems. Maybe next time. Well, not next time. My next cloud computing story, slated for early to mid-October, will look at how the cloud is changing business and work. If you have ideas for that story, contact me at jeff@sandstormmedia.net or look for my HARO query in a week or two.

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